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Guilty by Reason of Insanity: A Psychiatrist Explores the Minds of Killers

Guilty by Reason of Insanity: A Psychiatrist Explores the Minds of Killers

4.0 1
by Dorothy Otnow Lewis Ph.D., Ira Wood

Everyone has felt the urge to kill. Most people don't kill. Some people do. Dorothy Otnow Lewis, a psychiatrist and an internationally recognized expert on violence, has spent the last quarter century studying the differences between those who do and those who don't. Among the murderers she has examined are the notorious killers Ted Bundy, Arthur Shawcross, and


Everyone has felt the urge to kill. Most people don't kill. Some people do. Dorothy Otnow Lewis, a psychiatrist and an internationally recognized expert on violence, has spent the last quarter century studying the differences between those who do and those who don't. Among the murderers she has examined are the notorious killers Ted Bundy, Arthur Shawcross, and Mark David Chapman, the man who shot John Lennon. Now, she shares her groundbreaking discoveries--and the chilling encounters that led to them.

Guilty by Reason of Insanity is the gripping, brilliantly written true story of Dr. Lewis's search to understand those who kill. The unforgettable cases revealed here clearly illustrate how the disparate elements of brain damage, paranoia, and family brutality combine to create a killer.

It starts at a juvenile court in New Haven. A thirteen-year-old girl--out of the blue, in broad daylight--has stabbed her best friend to death before an audience of gaping classmates. Dr. Lewis convinces her colleague, the eminent neurologist Jonathan Pincus, to help her figure out why. Thus begins a collaboration that continues to this day.

The passion to understand the underpinnings of violence draws the Lewis-Pincus team to the psychiatric and forensic wards of New York City's Bellevue Hospital, and then to prisons around the country--eventually leading to the corridors of death row and to an infamous gallery of condemned killers.

There we meet a thirty-six-year-old woman who forms a sexual attachment to a fourteen-year-old boy. Together, they kidnap, torture, and ultimately murder a teenaged girl. Suddenly, in the midst of the interview with the doe-eyed, soft-spokenmurderess, a menacing, male persona appears and Dr. Lewis finds herself face-to-face with her first case of multiple personality disorder, a condition she never before believed existed.

We sit in on the psychiatric evaluation of a condemned boy who, at seventeen, raped and murdered a seventy-six-year-old nun. Only after his death does Dr. Lewis discover the grotesque secrets of his childhood that finally explain his murderous rage and his bizarre choice of victim.

Powerful, controversial, and utterly absorbing--including an intense final interview with an executioner--Guilty by Reason of Insanity is a tour de force, a compelling odyssey of one extraordinary psychiatrist striking a delicate balance between emotion and objectivity. It will forever change the way you think about crime, punishment, and the law itself.

Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
A psychiatrist who meets the criminally insane tells all. Lewis, a professor at New York University and Yale, spends a good deal of time examining the most violent among us. Her specialty is violent children, but over the years she has also met with adults. Her subjects include Arthur Shawcross, who mutilated and ate his victims, and Ted Bundy, who kissed her goodbye shortly before his execution. Lewis has clearly seen and heard a great deal, and she's unsparing in the details of what makes a child violent. As expected, she finds that poverty and abuse are strong indicators of a tendency toward violence, and she writes movingly of one little girl who became a murderer after her family repeatedly ignored her cries for help. Not every child in those situations becomes a law-breaker, but years of abuse combined with inattentive medical care can lead to serious behavioral problems and terrible violence. Lewis early on makes the point that she has often identified more with a killer waiting to be executed than with society, which she believes makes her more sensitive to those who kill. This approach has limited appeal, however, and the book often veers between overly long sections on Lewis's background and and relationships with colleagues and her parents, and too little real analysis. The reader is left with excellent insights into Lewis's own modus operandi, but not much in the way of a true understanding of what makes an abused child turn into a Ted Bundy. Like Barbara Kirwin's The Mad, The Bad, and The Innocent, this book focuses too much on the analyst.

Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.47(w) x 9.60(h) x 1.21(d)

Read an Excerpt

The secret of working with violent people is knowing when to end an interview. Then again, in certain situations that is not an option. Occasionally, in spite of what seem to be adequate precautions, I find myself alone in the company of a very dangerous person. For example, several years ago I was locked n a room with Theodore Bundy. I had not planned it that way.

The very best setting for interviewing a potentially violent prisoner is one where guards can see everything and hear nothing. Indeed, when I began my interview with Mr. Bundy, that was the setup. He and I were locked inside a room adjoining the administrative area of the Florida State Penitentiary at Starke. One side of the room, the side with the door through which we entered, had a large pane of soundproof glass that looked like a picture window; the other three walls were solid concrete. A guard was posted just outside the glass where we could see him and he could see but not hear us. he stood in a common area, surrounded by two or three administrative offices and another glassed-in interview room. The doors to the office were open, and I could see people inside, working behind their desks. I was perfectly safe. Every so often someone came into the common area to fill a mug from a coffee urn, which was always full and hot.

The room, small to begin with, was further cramped by the presence of a rectangular wooden table that filled almost the entire space. Mr. Bundy and I sat across from each other, our chairs pushed up against opposite walls. He had taken the chair nearest the door and had managed to angle his seat so that he could keep an eye on me and also keep track of the guard's movements beyond theglass. I was obliged to take the one remaining chair jammed up against the far wall of the cubicle. I would have felt trapped were it not for my clear view of the guard and his clear view of me. There was nothing to worry about. I relaxed and focused my attention entirely on Mr. Bundy and the task at hand. Once an interview is under way, I am oblivious to my surroundings.

We had been talking since nine o'clock and, in spite of the deliberately fat-filled, death row breakfast that I try to consume in order to keep going for hours, my stomach had started to rumble. This tendency of my gastrointestinal tract to make its needs known has been an embarrassment since high school. I looked at my watch. It was a little after twelve noon. Time for a candy break. (Jonathan and I have learned the folly of leaving prisons in order to get lunch. It can take hours to get back inside.) I turned from Mr. Bundy, on whom my attention had been riveted, and tried to catch the eye of the guard to unlock the cubicle so that I could get to a candy machine. The guard was gone. Not only was he gone, but everyone else who worked in the surrounding offices had also disappeared. They had all gone to lunch. It took me a few seconds to realize that I was alone, locked in a soundproof room with a man who had murdered more than two dozen women. I was not happy.

I turned my attention back to Mr. Bundy. "You were saying?" To this day, I do not recall much of what he was saying; I do remember trying to remain calm and appear attentive. If Mr. Bundy knew the guard had left, he kept the knowledge to himself.... Only one of Mr. Bundy's statements during that period of time remains with me: "The man sitting before you never killed anyone." During a previous interview with him, Theodore Bundy had described to me in detail several of the murders he had committed. I made a clinical decision: I chose not to point out the discrepancy between our two interviews. Alone in a room with a serial killer is neither the time nor the place to quibble about inconsistencies.

Meet the Author

Dorothy Otnow Lewis, M.D. grew up in New York City. She is a graduate of the Ethical Culture Schools, Radcliffe College, and Yale University School of Medicine. She is a psychiatrist at Bellevue Hospital in New York City, a professor at New York University School of Medicine, and a clinical professor at the Yale University Child Study Center. Her studies on violence have been cited in decisions of the Supreme Court of the United States. She is married to Dr. Melvin Lewis, a child psychiatrist and professor at Yale. The Lewises have two children.

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Guilty by Reason of Insanity 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
SJ book review  Never wanting to put the thrilling novel down, Guilty by Reason of Insanity is a book of tales and truths behind a killers mind and thinking. In this novel, Dorothy Otnow Lewis describes the brutal truth of a killer's motive that most people would tend to skip over. Starting with a few observations, Dr. Lewis discovers there's a way to communicate with a killer. "I have come to realize that, if studying homicidal individuals is a science, communicating with them is an art." That being said, a killer would admit to anything he/she felt like. Dr. Lewis then describes that sometimes you must engage yourself as apart of psychiatric training. To study violence, you must learn the differences between the ages of killers; young and old. Apart of training, psychiatrics need to understand child development. With that, you are able to have a wider perspective, and understanding of why there are young killers. Dr. Lewis shows many examples of when she needed to engage herself with a killer. To understand one, you learn their motive. By engaging herself, she came to realize that most killers have some sort of brain damage. Dr. Lewis goes on about a young girl who was mistreated sense birth, had grown up showing violent outbursts, only to discover her brain was under developed.  Among the many studies of Dorothy Lewis, she also discovers that Marie Moore was a young girl who had tortured someone, and then killed them. The rare discovery was that Moore had a multiple personality disorder. Dr. Lewis was astonished, because she had only come across few events with that disorder. When Moore was questioned, many answers got ignored, she was repetitive, or can't stick to one point. Dr. Lewis could see that Moore was extremely traumatized when it came to talking about her childhood. When Moore opens up about her past, she begins to spill the secrets kept in her household. Her father always had one too many drinks. With drinks came yelling. And with yelling, came violence. Moore shared stories of when her father would beat her mother and Moore would be a witness. With that being said, Dr. Lewis knew violence as a kid, molded into the person Marie Moore had become.  Everybody can admit that they are curious as to why killers do what they do. How the events can be so tragic and brutal; almost as they never had a care in the world. Guilty by Reason of Insanity reveals all the secrets to a killer's motive. From case to case, Dr. Lewis gives us many examples of young kids who grow up with violence in the home, when drugs become abused, or when it's just an environmental disorder with the killer. After reading this novel, the majority of your questions on why killers do what they do, will have been answered.